Sunday, June 8, 2008

And I said Doctor, Doctor

Hopefully at least some of us are coming up on the dissertation defense. In comments, Philo said:
I'm defending my dissertation pretty soon, and I was wondering if any of you out there with some (preferably successful) experience with this might offer some advice. Specifically, what do you recommend the soon-to-be defender do between submitting the diss to the committee and the actual defense?

Many thanks!
I'm guessing several non-dissertation related things or starting the process of working one of the chapters up into a paper. Anyone with actual experience know?

-- Second Suitor


Anonymous said...

I defended a few years ago, take at least the last 24hrs up to the last 36hrs and do not think about your topic at all, clear your mind.

doctaj said...

revamp your CV. start writing sample cover letters. write a draft of your teaching philosophy. locate and organize student eval printouts.

figure out some post-dissertation project (i.e., an article or conference paper) that you can start on and then talk about in interviews as "new, post-diss directions" in research.

in other words, NOW is the time to start preparing for the October JFP.

Anonymous said...

I defended this past September. I had to travel half-way across the country to get to where I was doing my post-doc before I defended, so my situation might be unique. Nevertheless, I felt that going back to the text of my dissertation, taking notes and trying to anticipate questions in the defense were keys to success. I had also been in the job market for 4 years prior to my defense, so applying for jobs and all of the things that go into that process was not something I had to prepare for. Since the job market is so difficult, I believe that it is prudent to make applying a habit. You will probably get rejected by 95% of the departments/jobs you apply to, so check the job sites as often as possible and apply to as many as possible.

Anonymous said...

Nobody ever fails there dissertation defense unless they've ignored blatant signals from their committee that they are not ready to defend and have somehow insisted on doing it anyway.

But that doesnt mean you cant use the defense for good purposes. Most defenses begin with the candidate summarizing their work. Use this as an opportunity to begin preparing your APA interview schpiel.

If fact, if you have good relations whith your director/committee, talk to them about the possibility of making a portion of the defense simulate the research portion of an apa interview. try to get them to ask some general questions, (what makes this project interesting? relevant? how would you explain this point to a non-specialist? What kinds of publishable works can be extracted from this? what comes next? etc.) in addition to more specialist objection/reply type questions.

At this point, you are basically done with the work of the dissertation. you have until october/december to start working on the next step, which is the "marketing" phase of the dissertation: stepping back and assessing what you think you have accomplished and figuring out how to sell it to a search committee.

use the defense, as much as possible, to get started on this while the dissertation is still fresh in mind.

Anonymous said...

My advice: try to enjoy the defense. I did. You've worked for years getting to this point, you've spent a couple years of your life writing something that you picked because it really interests you, and now is your opportunity to be center stage. You should have no trouble explaining what you did and why, and what the importance of it is (rehearsing your answers ahead of time is still a good idea, of course). So have fun with it.

Anonymous said...

As a poster mentioned before, the defense is mere pageantry...any surprises are your own fault or the result of some spiteful committee members. That being said, what you should be doing is getting that shit formatted, my friend, that is, make sure that your dissertation meets all the formatting and style guidelines laid down by your admin office. I know a handful of people who got royally screwed because they failed to pay attention to things like paper weight, pagination, reference style, margins, font, etc. It took me an entire day just to get the pagination right on my dissertation (Fuck you, MS Word!). Seriously, you wait until the last second to do that shit and you will hate life.

philo said...

Thanks, Second Suitor, for putting my post up.

And thanks too to those of you who have responded here and on the other thread to my query.

Lots of good advice, I feel. I appreciate the calming advice from several folks out there on success-rates of dissertation defenses. While I know of one instance at my own institution of a student failing the defense, that seems to be the exception. Most defenses I've witnessed have been very civil and constructive affairs (with another exception, of course!).

I especially like doctaj's advice to work on job-market-related matters. I suspect that would also have the nice side effect of bringing more clearly into my mind why it is that I got into this academic business in the first place (what do I want to teach? how do I want to teach? how do I want to present myself to search committees? what is my future research agenda?).

I also like anon 12:34's thought on treating the defense as something akin to interview preparation. While I'm not quite sure I can swing that officially with my advisor, thinking of the defense in those terms seems helpful. The questions the committee asks may bear some relationship to the questions a search committee might ask of my research. (Some members of my committee are likely to ask hard questions on scholarship, while others are more likely to ask the big-picture, "so what?" type questions.)

Lastly, I'll try to take a day or so off before the defense to chill out. Don't know if I can do it entirely.

Anyhow, thanks again!

Anonymous said...

This is going to depend entirely on you, your dissertation, and your committee. Ask your peers in your department.

Anonymous said...

Department culture probably plays a large role, but I concur with the above posters who classify it as a formality based upon my own experience and those of others I work/talk with. So to make it productive, take the advice that was given by those who say to use at as a tune up for the market. This is great advice your advisor should give you and I wish mine had given me. But, this probably all varies per institution/country, etc.

Anonymous said...

If you are worried about aggressive committee members, make sure you serve some food and alcohol during your defense. Just make sure there is no coffee or soda, i.e. no caffeine! I have attended a couple of defenses where there was am ice chest full of beer and the food was catered. The defenses went rather well after the committee members had a couple of beers and some food.

Anonymous said...

Might be advice too late for you, philo, but on the off chance it helps a younger grad student.

Many departments have open defenses. If you're nervous about what one's like, go and see your friends defend.

philo said...

So for anyone out there who is curious, I passed. (yay!) Not that I seriously doubted this outcome, but emotionally it can be a bit of a roller coaster right before the defense (the culmination of one's graduate school experience).

Anyhow, thanks again for the advice! Best wishes to any dissertation-writers out there...

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Philo! I'm at once inspired and envious. ;-)